American Hustle (2013)

American Hustle
Director: David O. Russell
Writer: David O. Russell, Eric Warren Singer
Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Michael Peña, Shea WhighamAlessandro Nivola, Saïd Taghmaoui

Irving (Christian Bale) is a con man who finds a new partner in all things in Sydney (Amy Adams), despite being married to Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence). But then police man Richie (Bradley Cooper) catches them in the act and decides to use them to convict the mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) of corruption. But things keep on spiraling out of control.

I can imagine that American Hustle would have been a good film if somebody other than David O. Russell had made it. Or if Russell had found a consistent tone in which to tell his story. But as is the movie was just a mess.


Within the first five seconds it was clear to me that this was probably not going to be my kind of film. As the film opens, it pans slowly over Christian Bale’s belly. Filmed like a scene from a body horror film, the cinema around me erupted into laughter, the joke literally being “look, Christian Bale is fat!” (and it’s not the only scene of that kind in the film). Well, hahaha. I probably just don’t think it’s funny because I see my own fat belly in the mirror every day and when you hear a joke too often it’s just not that funny anymore. Or maybe it never was funny to begin with? Nah, that can’t be it. Because seeing fat people is alwas funny.*

And you know what’s always funny, too? TITS! That’s the second thing the film is absolutely obsessed with. Shots of Amy Adams’ tits. Shots of Jennifer Lawrence’s boobs. You practically see more of them than of their faces. [The third thing, but that is at least actually funny, is the hair and the hair-dos. Those are generally pretty brilliant.]


But even apart from all those endless camera pans, there’s hardly anything that works about the film. The cast is excellent but the characters aren’t. Their relationships with each other are thrown at us, partly narrated but always verbally explained because otherwise you could have barely made sense of them (with the only possible exception the relationship between Irving and Carmine). The story is frayed, it jumps around and its framing really didn’t help matters.

When the movie is finally done, you will have spent two hours watching people be horrible to each other. You will have watched disconnected scenes of (ab)use in a story that has apparently no point. Some of these scenes are worth seeing. But the movie as a whole probably not.


Summarizing: Disappointing.

*To add insult to injury, Christian Bale is far from actually fat in the film. He has a bit of a belly, yes. He is overweight. But the way the movie goes on about his belly you’d expect it to be the size of a planet.


  1. I couldn’t agree less. I found the movie to be funny from start to finish. I also didn’t get the impression that the first scene was funny because of Christian Bales belly, but because of the way he tries to hide his increasing baldness with an epic combover. A scene that pretty much told us all we have to know about the character in order to understand him.

    Granted, I’m too young to speak from experience, but werent dresses like that simply common in the 70s? At least, that’s the impression that I got, since many praised the movie for authentically representing the fashion of that era. If so, I don’t think it’s fair to blame the filmmakers for that. Also, I don’t recall any shots simply of Amy Adams boobs. You could also always see her face in those shots AFAIR. Which I actually happened to do most of the time, thanks to her stellar performance. Same with Jennifer Lawrence. Maybe it’s just me, but I found watching their faces and seeing their performances far more interesting.

    Anyway, I guess that’s another one were we simply have to agree to disagree.

      • That is not true. Basically the first thing that Amy Adams says about him is that he has this comb-over and that he is fat (admittedly, I don’t remember the exact phrasing – maybe it was something like “he has a belly” or “he is overweight”, but it was definitely a comment about his weight). And even if the movie hadn’t made an explicit verbal comment about his weight, the way the shots were framed, the way his belly was set in scene was one huge pointed finger because oh my gosh look how ridiculous.

        The problem is not with calling somebody fat – I am fat myself, I call myself fat, being fat is not an insult per se (even though it is often used as such). The problem here is twofold: one, that the standards of what constitutes fatness (and therefore thinness) are ridiculous and that perfectly thin people are being called fat, which in our culture is not a good thing to be and should be avoided at all costs. And two, that the fact alone that somebody is fat is used/portrayed as a joke.

        So don’t tell me I add insult by calling somebody fat, when I call the movie out on its fatphobia.

        • The way I recalled it, she said that he wasn’t exactly in best shape. Which I didn’t find offensive at all. However, I’ll definitely watch it again when it gets released on Blu Ray, and if I should be wrong I’ll come back and apologize ;-).

          However, I didn’t get the sense that we were supposed to laugh about his belly. What “impressed” me about him, and what the movie wanted to say in those shots, is that he just didn’t give a f*ck. He’s just letting it all hang out and screw you, deal with it. That’s what I found funny, his pose and his overconfidence, not the belly itself.

          However, I totally agree with you about everything that you say about our culture.

          And, just to clarify: When I said you added insult to injury, that refered to your post scriptum-comment that the movie added insult to injury by calling him fat, which AFAIR the movie never did (at least not in this words). Thus, this particulary “insult” seemed “self-inflicted” if you will, since I didn’t recall the movie mentioning it, but you mentioned it in your PS. Thus, my comment was meant was a world-play to your review-PS, and was not meant literally.

          • It could be that that was what she said. As I said I don’t remember the phrasing, just that she commented on his physique. But still, my point is not that the movie put it in words that he was fat but that it was shot like his body was grotesque. Or at least that’s definitely how I saw it and how my companion saw it. And obviously the audience I saw it with thought it hilarious, already when there was nothing else to laugh about yet.

            Anyway, maybe I should have been more clear when I wrote the insult to injury: the insult is not the “fat” part. The injury is playing Bale’s body in this film off as ridiculous, the insult is that by rational standards, he isn’t even that fat. [Not that it would have made things any better if he was actually really fat, but at least it would have made it less bigotted.] That’s why your phrasing – that played on my phrasing – rubbed me the wrong way.

    • I wasn’t talking about the combover bit, I was talking about the first shot of the film, which is a disembodied, headless, overweight belly – which was enough to make the audience in my cinema burst out laughing and that was also exactly the reaction the movie wanted to get from the audience. And that pissed me off.
      His detailed attention to the combover: yes, that was important characterwise. It was also funny. But those first shots were gratuitous.

      I’m pretty sure that dresses like that were more common in the 70s than they are now, yes. I don’t think that it was the only thing people wore at the time. And even if that was all women wore at the time, there are ways to set things in scene that call attention to their boobs and ways that don’t, no matter the dress. And I just found the entire thing so completely male-gaze-y, so breast-obsessed, it was completely annoying. Which had nothing to do with both their wonderful performances and expressive faces and everything to do with the way the camera shoved their tits in my face all the time. [At least that’s what it felt like to me.]

      Yeah, I guess we have to disagree.

      • Huh. ok, sorry about the first scene. I remember it differently ( could swear the first image was of his face in the mirror). Also, my audience didn’t burst out laughing because of that, but because of the combover bit. Then again, without wanting to defend them, seeing Christian Bale with such a belly in itself is such an unusual image, that the laughter might have been more about the unexpectedness of that, than about him being “fat” in itself. However, I totally get how someone can find it offensive, and since I don’t look that dissimilar from how Bale looks in this movie, bodywise, I can relate to your reaction. I just perceived it differently.

        I don’t think that it was so much the camera but the customes that “shoved their tits in your face”, so to speak. I really don’t see how he could/should have shot it otherwise. You can’t go with a close-up of the face all the time.

        • I doubt that Bale’s belly came as a surprise to many people in the audience as about 50% of the press coverage before the film was all about him being so incredibly fat and zomg have you seen him and Batman is now fatman and I don’t know what else.
          Well. If you’re cinematic experience was different, I’m really happy for you because mine sucked.

          And regarding the breasts – I guess it’s hard to explain but it’s about where your gaze is drawn in the frame/scene which is very much about how you place your camera and it’s also easily influenced. I’m not saying that he should have done only close-ups and I’m not saying that you can’t show breasts at all. But it is something I notice very much, probably because I usually don’t care that much about breasts and if I notice them this much, it’s all about how the film is shot.

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